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Cottage Grove's Bev Gross awarded for history, volunteer work

Historian Bev Gross will receive the Outstanding Senior Citizen award at the Washington County Fair Aug.1. (Submitted photo) 1 / 3
Historian Bev Gross has compiled many scrapbooks that document the history of Cottage Grove. She will receive the Outstanding Senior Citizen award at the Washington County Fair Aug.1. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)2 / 3
An antique phone is one of many artifacts at the home of local historian Bev Gross, who will receive the Outstanding Senior Citizen award at the Washington County Fair Aug.1. Gross, of Cottage Grove, won the award for her volunteer work and for helping to preserve the history of South Washington County. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)3 / 3

Bev Gross doesn’t live in the past — she brings the past back to life.

A descendant of German pioneers who settled in Old Cottage Grove in the mid-1800s, she’s compiled thick scrapbooks whose clippings, documents and sepia toned photos bring vanished eras into focus.

She’s combed through microfiche at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. She’s active in at least three local historical societies.

Much of her work centers on her lifelong home.

“As a small child, Old Cottage Grove was it and new Cottage Grove was nothing but farms,” Gross said.

For her volunteer work and her efforts as one of the region’s preeminent amateur historians, Gross will be honored with an Outstanding Senior Citizen award at the Washington County Fair.

The award is given annually to one woman and one man. She and Byron Anderson of Hugo will be honored on “County Fair Senior Day” Aug. 1.

“We look for senior citizens that have done exceptional work as far as donating time and being involved with local organizations and clubs, just being very active in the community,” said fair manager Dorie Ostertag. “Both of these (nominees) have met and far exceeded any of our expectations. They are very hard workers and have definitely put in their time.”

Gross and her husband, Bud, are members of the Cottage Grove United Church of Christ, the city’s oldest congregation. She volunteers at the farmers market, held Thursdays in the church parking lot. She’s also worked as a tour guide at the historic Cedarhurst Mansion. Years ago, she interviewed local residents who had worked at the mansion in the early decades of the 20th century.

As a member of the Denmark Township Historical Society, she’s part of the effort to preserve a 162-year-old, one-room schoolhouse. In February, the Cottage Grove City Council reappointed her to the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation.

During the Christmas season, she makes bread and cookies that she delivers to residents in the Norris Square senior living community.

Gross was nominated for Outstanding Senior Citizen by Susan Weiby, a niece.

“I couldn’t believe it when they told me,” she said.

When she was growing up in Old Cottage Grove, her father, Arthur Brown, was the manager of the Washington County Rural Telephone Company.

Their home contained a company switchboard, she said. A female operator would work at the house during the day. Arthur Brown would take the night shift. He would sleep near the switchboard to route any calls that came in during the wee hours. They were few, Gross said, since the farmers had gone to bed and most of the other folks didn’t want to pay the 10 cents for calls made after 9:30 p.m.

In 2008, Gross received the 20th annual Preservationist of the Year award, a recognition of her work with area historical preservation and heritage societies and extensive collection of historic artifacts and photos documenting the city’s past.